LA Review: 'To Quiet the Quiet'

at Elephant Stages

Reviewed by Travis Michael Holder

July 16, 2012


Photo by Joel Daavid
Every once in a while a playwright as promising as Christy Hall surfaces, and nothing could be more exhilarating. Hall wrote the redundantly titled "To Quiet the Quiet" at the ripe old age of 24, and it is an auspicious achievement, in an understated way. Seeing it premiere in Elephant Stages' popular but slightly less-than-well-appointed black-box theater is akin to finding the proverbial diamond in the rough, although with the formidable Barbara Bain's name attached to the project as director, we have an early clue that we're in for a treat.

As the lights come up on Joel Daavid's subtle kitchen set, prophetically composed of looming puzzle pieces and unfinished woodwork, Kathy (Lisa Richards), a frail little birdlike creature, is being grilled with varying degrees of patience by a man in a business suit named Quinn (Michael Marc Friedman). He appears to be coaching her for some upcoming event with methods not unlike those that a trial lawyer would employ to coach a witness.

Kathy is clearly subject to forgetting things as quickly as she remembers them, which leads her to frustrated outbreaks of erratic behavior and language unsuited for someone as sweet and demure as she appears to be. The tutoring involves a man named Todd, and the more we learn, the more it appears that Todd is Kathy's ex-husband. The unknown is what this confrontation entails but according to Kathy having it is fiercely important. She begs Quinn to help her "stop the silence before it eats me up, swallow it before it swallows me."

As the play unfolds, Quinn decides to leave without much assurance that Kathy will employ what they have decided is the best behavior during the upcoming mystery confrontation. She is soon tested for real when Todd (Stephen Mendillo) shows up at the door for what even he admits is a reunion born from a deeply bad idea. As the pieces of Kathy's convoluted tale start to fall into place, so does the dread of impending danger, and under Bain's sturdy and surefooted direction the results are mesmeric.

Part of this is due to Bain's collaboration with Richards, a cross between Shirley MacLaine and Sandy Dennis who gives off the air of a crazed Tennessee Williams heroine ready to leave Elysian Fields with the doctor. Richards somehow has the ability to get away with a theatricality that would make you want to string most actors up from the lighting grid. Her choices emanate from the deepest and most painfully honest emotional foundation, making her memorable performance the cornerstone of this quietly riveting production.

Mendillo is also exceptional as Todd, so hauntingly tortured by his former love's condition that we hurt along with him. The interplay between Richards and Mendillo could serve as a workshop to exemplify perfect interaction between actors. Friedman is overshadowed by the others, but the fault could be in not casting someone younger and less worldly as Quinn. That might better illumine his surfacing identity and more clearly explain why Quinn is there when Hall's remarkable script starts to slowly, eerily let us in on its deepest, darkest secrets.

Presented by Sean Thomas at Elephant Stages, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A. July 14–Aug. 19. Fri. and Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. (323) 960-5773 or www.plays411.com.
 

 
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